Washing dishes: Chore made of memories

Helena Rodriguez : Freedom Newspapers

I’m waiting a week to reveal my New Year’s resolutions for two reasons.

• I need to make sure they don’t fall apart by next week.

• There’s a more pressing matter: dirty dishes.

Dirty dishes are a critical issue. In fact, there’s probably some dirty dishes sitting in your sink right now calling out your name. Many lives, deaths, and marriages have been affected by dirty dishes.

Now I’m not the kind of person to air my dirty laundry in public. Well actually that may make a good column, too. But for now, I’ll stick with dirty dishes.

Why? Because I have a friend in Abilene, Texas, who I thought was normal. By all indications, she appeared to be a sane, sound-minded, contributing member of society. But one day she let her secret out and revealed to me that she likes … get this … she likes washing dishes.

“Now what kind of a sick, twisted mind,” I started thinking to myself, but Debra, sensing my complete shock, started trying to defend herself.

“I love the way the warm water and suds feel on my hands,” Debra said. “It’s very soothing.”

“Ah, yes!” I thought to myself, “Soothing, like being in a hot tub, with dirty pans.”

Actually my friend Debra is not insane. She’s a gentle-hearted person you have to admire because she works with special-education children. So after thinking about this revelation for awhile, it didn’t seem so outlandish. In fact, it started to make a little sense. (I mean the part about the warm water. Notice there was no mention of dishpan hands.)

As I thought about this, I realized my life is full of many dishwashing memories because we were a big clan who liked to eat. Although I didn’t like the actual task of washing dishes, it ‘s the being together in the kitchen over the years with my aunts, sisters and mom that have made for some memorable talks as well as near homicides.

As a child, we would be playing happily and then Aunt Mary would shout in a voice you couldn’t hide from, “Whose gonna do the dishes?” and they’d all look at us. Since the adults cooked, it was our job to clean.

It wasn’t so bad once we’d stop whining and drag ourselves into the kitchen. It got better when we became teens. We’d listen to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” and share our boy crushes while scrubbing pans.

But sometimes it was like War of the Worlds. Becky, Julie and I fought over who was going to wash, rinse and dry. Whoever called it first got to do that job, so we vied for the easiest job, rinsing. But one day someone decided that it wasn’t fair if the person who rinsed just had to, well, rinse, so we added the job of cleaning the cabinets to whoever rinsed. Soon the most coveted job was drying. Finally, the only way to make it fair was to take turns washing, rinsing and drying.

Now that I’m the adult in the house, I can tell my daughter Laura to wash dishes, which is nothing of a task like when I was a kid since it’s just the two of us. But sometimes Laura whines, a routine that takes longer than washing our dishes. So then I say to Laura: “That’s nothing. When I was a kid, we had mounds of dishes stacked up a mile high, from one cabinet to the other.”

We also had to load the dishes in a wagon and carry them through freezing snow to an ice cold stream. Wait no, that’s a scene from Little House on the Prairie. But what I’m saying is that dishwashing is easier now than when I was a child.

So when I catch myself complaining about the small loads of dishes I have, I laugh and remember the endless mounds of plates and sinks full of grease from my childhood. And I think of Debra as I fill up the sink and allow my hands to indulge in the warm water and suds. I allow my thoughts to be whisked away in the soothing comfort. It becomes one of those luxurious Calgon moments … and then I feel that greasy pan waiting for me at the bottom.